Quotulatiousness

February 13, 2018

Tulip mania … wasn’t

Filed under: Economics, Europe, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Tim Harford on bubbles in general and the great seventeenth-century Tulip mania in the Netherlands in particular:

It seems all so much easier with hindsight: looking back, we can all enjoy a laugh at the Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, to borrow the title of Charles Mackay’s famous 1841 book, which chuckles at the South Sea bubble and tulip mania. Yet even with hindsight things are not always clear. For example, I first became aware of the incipient dotcom bubble in the late 1990s, when a senior colleague told me that the upstart online bookseller Amazon.com was valued at more than every bookseller on the planet. A clearer instance of mania could scarcely be imagined.

But Amazon is worth much more today than at the height of the bubble, and comparing it with any number of booksellers now seems quaint. The dotcom bubble was mad and my colleague correctly diagnosed the lunacy, but he should still have bought and held Amazon stock.

Tales of the great tulip mania in 17th-century Holland seem clearer — most notoriously, the Semper Augustus bulb that sold for the price of an Amsterdam mansion. “The population, even to its lowest dregs, embarked in the tulip trade,” sneered Mackay more than 200 years later.

But the tale grows murkier still. The economist Peter Garber, author of “Famous First Bubbles”, points out that a rare tulip bulb could serve as the breeding stock for generations of valuable flowers; as its descendants became numerous, one would expect the price of individual bulbs to fall.

Some of the most spectacular prices seem to have been empty tavern wagers by almost-penniless braggarts, ignored by serious traders but much noticed by moralists. The idea that Holland was economically convulsed is hard to support: the historian Anne Goldgar, author of Tulipmania (US) (UK), has been unable to find anyone who actually went bankrupt as a result.

It is easy to laugh at the follies of the past, especially if they have been exaggerated for the purposes of sermonising or for comic effect. Charles Mackay copied and exaggerated the juiciest reports he could find in order to get his point across.

Update, 15 February: For more detail on the lack-of-bubble in Tulip Mania, you might want to read Anne Goldgar’s post at The Conversation.

January 31, 2018

“Bitcoin is, of course, a mania – a delusion of the sort that human societies are prone to”

Filed under: Business, Economics, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Tim Worstall looks at some historical manias and explains how even the maddest of them can yield long-term economic benefits (to society as a whole, if not to individual maniacs):

The UK’s railway mania, the tulip bubble, the dot com boom and other collective economic madness – such as bitcoin – might lose people a lot of money, but they often lay down important foundations

Bitcoin is, of course, a mania – a delusion of the sort that human societies are prone to. This is fighting talk from someone who declared in 2011 that bitcoin was all over. Being wrong is not interesting – it is rare things which are interesting, not common ones – but the psychology and economics here are important.

The classic text on this topic is Charles McKay’s Extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds. Human societies are prone to manias which seem to defy any sense or reasonableness. Certainly markets can be so overcome, although the witch burnings show that it’s not purely an economic phenomenon.

The South Sea Bubble, Tulip mania, railway shares, the dotcom boom and now bitcoin are all part of that same psychological failing of not recognising that prices can and will fall as well as rise. That is the classical interpretation of the McKay book and observation, but modern studies take a more nuanced view.

South Sea and the Mississippi Company bubble were simply speculative frenzies, but the tulip story – while appearing very similar – can be read another way.

It is still true, for example, that a few sheds near Schipol, just outside Amsterdam, are the centre of the world’s trade in cut flowers – the result of that historical episode where a single tulip bulb became worth more than a year’s wages.

We can, and some do, take tourist trips to see the fields of those very tulips today. Modern researchers point out that the tulip was near unknown in Europe, the first examples only just having arrived from Turkey.

The art of cross-pollinating tulips to gain desirable characteristics was only just becoming generally known, and Europe was reaching a stage of wealth where the purely ornamental was becoming valuable.

Yes, the speculation in prices was ludicrous – although the weird stuff was in futures and options markets, not the physical trade, and the absurd prices never actually happened – but the end result of the frenzy was still that the tulip and flower market became and is centred in The Netherlands.

December 10, 2017

Political hysteria as a tool of persuasion

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

David Harsanyi on the way the Democrats are reacting to the apocalyptic news that the Republicans finally managed to pass a tax reform:

Whenever passable Republican legislation materializes — a rarity these days — Democrats quickly warn that thousands, or perhaps even millions, of lives are at stake. Tax reform? Health care? Bogus international treaties? Internet regulations that were only instituted last year? It really doesn’t matter. Longstanding conservative ideas are not only wrong; they portend the end of America as we know it.

Why are liberals so apocalyptic and bellicose about tax reform (a rare cut that is, according to the sometimes-reliable Washington Post fact-checkers, only the eighth largest in history)? Well, everyone in politics tends to dramatize the consequences of policy for effect. A modern Democratic Party drifting toward Bernie-ism, though, is far more likely to legitimately perceive any cuts in taxation as a limiting of state control, and thus, an attack on all decency and morality. Taxation, after all, is the finest tool of redistribution. So it’s understandable.

But that’s not all of it. With failure comes frustration, and with frustration there is a need to ratchet up the panic-stricken rhetoric. It’s no longer enough to hang nefarious personal motivations on your political opponents — although it certainly can’t hurt! Good political activists must now corrupt language and ideas to imbue their ham-fisted arguments with some kind of basic plausibility. Many liberal columnists, for example, will earnestly argue that Republicans — who at this moment control the Senate, the House of Representatives and the White House, thanks to our free and fair elections — are acting undemocratically when passing bills. As you know, democracy means raising taxes on the minority. What else could it mean?

October 27, 2017

The revival of the paranoid style in social media

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

During the Clinton presidency, the conspiracy theorists were limited to the reach of their printed-and-mailed newsletters and fringe radio to spread the word (because so relatively few people were online yet). By the time George W. Bush was president, the paranoia had gone digital but had switched sides … now it was the left’s turn to fret about shadowy quasi-governmental organizations amassing arms caches and plotting to throw everyone into prison camps. Then Obama was elected, and the far-right conspiracy theorists re-emerged, bringing in the racist fringe to spice up the crazy. Now Trump is president, and both left and right are free to get their total paranoia on. This is a wonderful example of the type:

H/T to Colby Cosh for the link.

October 25, 2017

Climb aboard the invective treadmill!

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Megan McArdle tries to point out the urge to call everyone you don’t like a “racist” or “white supremacist” runs you the same trust risk that the boy who cried wolf did:

It’s the inverse of what Steven Pinker has dubbed “the euphemism treadmill,” where we try to find nicer words for something we don’t think is very nice, and find that the new words quickly take on all the old connotations. So “toilet,” turns into “bathroom,” then migrates onward to “rest room.” Only we still know there’s a toilet behind that door, and whatever words we use about it, our feelings don’t change.

This is why attempting to change how Americans feel about illegal migrants by changing the terms we use to describe them is a project doomed to failure; whether they are “illegal aliens” or “undocumented immigrants,” the political realities remain the same. People who feel negatively toward “illegals” feel just as negatively toward “undocumented immigrants.”

The invective treadmill works in a similar fashion, only in reverse.

[…]

During the 2016 presidential campaign, I found myself confronted by a curious problem: Many of my readers simply didn’t take it seriously when I pointed out that Donald Trump was, if not an outright racist himself, at least happily pandering to people who were.

“The media calls every Republican racist,” my conservative readers replied. “They said it about Mitt Romney, they said it about George Bush, so what’s different about Trump?”

They were right. Other columnists had accused Romney and Bush of being racist and pandering to racists. I pointed out that Trump’s racist appeals were different, and much worse, than anything that earlier Republican presidential candidates had been accused of. But it didn’t do any good. The media had cried wolf to condemn garden-variety Republicans; labels like “racist” had been rendered useless when a true threat emerged. We shouted to no avail as Trump coyly flirted with hardcore white supremacists, something no mainstream party had done for decades.

Indeed, it seems to me that critical race theorists have gone to “white supremacy” precisely because the increasingly broad uses of the word “racism” have made it less effective than it used to be at rallying moral outrage. The term still packs some wallop, but less than it once did, because it is now defined so broadly that a Broadway musical could sing “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” White supremacy, on the other hand, is still clearly understood as beyond the pale.

But if we indiscriminately apply the term to everything from the alt-right white nationalist Richard Spencer, to anyone who thinks that football players should stand for the national anthem … for how long will white supremacy still be considered beyond the pale? What happens if people accused of racism start shrugging off the epithet — or worse, embracing it? And when another Richard Spencer comes along, how will we convey how dangerous he is?

The new “movie plot threat” – The Revenge of the Return of the Bride of the Sex Trafficking Mafia

Filed under: Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The rising moral panic over sex traffic gets a well-deserved takedown by Lenore Skenazy:

We are in the midst of a massive mommy moral panic. Across the country, mothers are writing breathless accounts on Facebook of how sex traffickers nearly snatched their children at Target/Ikea/the grocery store.

While at Sam’s Club, one such post explains, “a man came up to us and asked if the empty cart nearby was ours.…He was an African American with a shaved head.…It seemed like an innocent encounter.” Innocent, that is, until the mom and kids headed to Walmart and there was the guy again, “feverishly texting on his phone but not taking his eye off my daughter.”

It could only mean one thing, she wrote: “I have absolutely NO doubt that that man is a trafficker looking for young girls to steal and sell.”

And I have absolutely no doubt that she’s wrong. This is what security expert Bruce Schneier has dubbed a “movie plot threat” — a narrative that looks suspiciously like what you’d see at the Cineplex. The more “movie plot” a situation seems, the less likely it is to be real.

But it sells. A Facebook post by Diandra Toyos went wildly viral after she said she and her kids were followed by two men at Ikea. “I had a bad feeling,” she wrote. Fortunately, she “managed to lose them.”

Which, frankly, is what one does at Ikea, even with people one is trying not to lose. Nonetheless, the post ricocheted through the media. CBS told viewers that while experts found the scenario unlikely, “that doesn’t mean Toyos didn’t have reason to be concerned.”

Actually, it does.

August 14, 2017

QotD: Millenarianism, left and right

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Secularists and leftists enjoy sneering at conservative Christians who believe in the Rapture and other flavors of millenarianism. Reasonably so: it takes either a drooling idiot or somebody who has deliberately shut off most of his brain, reducing himself to an idiotically low level of critical thinking, to believe such things. The draw, of couse, is that each individual fundamentalist implicitly believes he will be among the saved — privileged to honk a great big I TOLD YOU SO! at all those sinners writhing in the lake of fire.

It is therefore more than a little amusing to notice how prone these ‘sophisticated’ critics are to their own forms of idiotic millenarianism.

Anybody remember Paul “Population Bomb” Ehrlich? This is the guy who predicted that megadeaths from global famine would be the defining feature of the 1970s. Or Jeremy Rifkin, the guy who told us all in 1986 that the Frostban bacterium engineered to protect plants against cold snaps would mess up the Earth’s climate? Or the brigade of self-panickers (Carl Sagan was briefly one of them) who warned us all back around 1980 that an impending Ice Age was about to destroy civilization? Or, hey — how about the ozone hole; remember when we were all going to die of UV-B-induced skin cancer?

It’s easy to laugh at those particular doom-mongers now; there has been plenty of time for their predictions to fail. But we have plenty of apocalypse merchants peddling equally silly scenarios, on equally thin evidence and bogus reasoning, today. And the same ‘sophisticated’ secularists who lapped up Paul Ehrlich’s nonsense are swaying to the Gospel shout of global warming and “peak oil” — just as self-hypnotized, and just as stone-stupid, as an Ozark Mountains cracker at a tent-revival meeting.

Rather than getting to gloat over sinners writhing in a lake of fire, the draw is getting to feel superior to capitalists and Republicans and Americans; they will all surely Get Theirs and starve in their SUVs when the Collapse Comes, while virtuous tree-hugging Birkenstock-wearers, being in a state of grace with Gaia, will retire to renewable-energy-powered communes and build scale models of Swedish socialism out of macrame supplies or something.

The hilarious part is how self-congratulatory the secularist millennarians are about their own superiority over the religious ones, when in fact the secondary gain from these two kinds of delusional system is identical.

Eric S. Raymond, “Peak Oil — A Wish-Fulfillment Fantasy for Secular Idiots”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-11-13.

September 28, 2016

“… first I have to explain the Tragically Hip. I apologize in advance.”

Filed under: Cancon, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Kathy Shaidle burnishes her street cred as the most anti-Tragically Hip writer of the year:

Foreign ears will likely mistake the Hip for a fairly capable R.E.M. cover band — very “Stuff White People Like,” nothing more. But up here during, yes, the 1990s, college students got maudlin drunk on this group’s unsingable songs, in part because the only words you can make out are Canadian place names and slang terms, and there will always exist a particular variety of parochial — the type who otherwise despises “patriotism” — who inevitably finds that sort of thing weirdly…I don’t know if “flattering” is quite the word, but it will have to do. It helps that, off stage, the Hip promote the usual “progressive” bunkum.

The Tragically Hip are hardly the Rolling Stones or the Who, or Smashing Pumpkins or Hole. The Tragically Hip will never make any Top 50, or even Top 500, Musical Groups of All Time List.

And yet, I’ve been duly informed, they are “Canada’s Band.” The announcement on May Two-Four that lead singer and songwriter Gord Downie had fatal brain cancer meant, for me, that (forget what I wrote last week) his gnomic lyrics finally had a pretext, and for everyone else, that the band was embarking on a national farewell tour.

The media covered every aspect of this cross-country excursion with that cloying, breathless boosterism normally reserved for the Olympics. Except even the Games’ critics are allowed to voice their dissent, and not a discouraging word was permitted as the Tragically Hip traipsed across the country all summer, their “songs” blaring on the radio even more than already demanded by CanCon.

The CBC broadcast their final gig live, calling it “an honour and a privilege.” Prime Minister Zoolander (later conspicuously absent from any 15th-anniversary commemorations of 9/11) attended, of course. Maclean’s put Downie on the cover of a special issue and devoted dozens of pages to the tour, analyzing each set list and quoting fans declaring the Hip’s songs “the soundtrack of our lives” and Downie “a genius” and a “shaman” and a “saint.”

I’d go on, but Canadian poet David Solway’s crabby take on this “orgiastic sobfest” cannot be bettered. (Not surprisingly, it was published by an American outlet.)

And then it was over. Finally.

Except until it wasn’t.

September 2, 2015

The communal WitchFinder

Filed under: Britain, Media, Politics, Science — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Jonathan Foreman on the social media witch hunt that crashed Tim Hunt’s career and reputation:

In 1983, the British biochemist Timothy Hunt discovered cyclins, a family of proteins that help regulate the life of cells. Eighteen years later, in 2001, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. Between June 8 and June 10 of this year, the 72-year-old Hunt went from being a universally respected and even beloved figure at the top of the scientific establishment to an instant pariah, condemned everywhere for antiquated opinions about women’s role in science that he does not, in fact, hold.

In only 48 hours, he found himself compelled to resign his positions at University College London and at the august Royal Society (where Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke once fought petty battles) after being told that failure to do so would lead to his outright firing.

The Timothy Hunt affair represents more than the gratuitous eye-blink ruination of a great man’s reputation and career. It demonstrates the danger of the extraordinary, almost worshipful deference that academia, government institutions, and above all the mainstream media now accord to social media. It is yet more evidence of the way moral panic and (virtual) mob rule can be accelerated and intensified by the minimalism of Twitter, with its 140-character posts and its apparently inherent tendency to encourage snap judgments, prejudice, and cruelty.

Fortunately, the story did not end on June 10. In the weeks following the initial assault, some of Hunt’s most ardent persecutors have been exposed as liars or blinkered ideologues, abetted by cynical hacks and academic rivals on a quest to bring him down or use him as grist to a political mill. Hunt’s partial rehabilitation has largely come about thanks to the dogged investigations of Louise Mensch, the British novelist and former conservative member of parliament who lives in New York City and is herself a powerful presence on Twitter. Mensch was alarmed by what she calls ‘the ugly combination of bullying and sanctimony” in the reaction to remarks made by “an evidently sweet and kind” older man.

She did some checking on Twitter and soon found that the two main witnesses for the prosecution contradicted each other. Then she began a more thorough investigation of Hunt’s offending comments and the lack of due process involved in his punishment by various academic and media institutions. The results of her exhaustive research, published on her blog, Unfashionista.com, encouraged an existing groundswell of support for Hunt from scientists around the world but most important from Hunt’s own female colleagues and former students.

February 5, 2015

QotD: “Can We All Shut Up About the Weather for a While?”

Filed under: Humour, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Can we shut up about weather for a while, especially weather that is totally in keeping with the seasons in which it’s taking place? It’s only 2015, but it seems like we get storms of the century about every three to six months. Our parents famously walked three miles (uphill both ways, mind you) in sub-zero and scorching temperatures in shoes made of detergent-box cardboard while also mining coal and smoking unfiltered cigarettes by the carton. And here we are, snug in our all-wheel-drive vehicles and Gore-Tex weather wear, demanding work and school be canceled on a 40% likelihood of snow flurries.

Summer has heat waves, winter has snowstorms, get over it. Ever since The Weather Channel first went live in 1982, Americans have been in love with “weather porn,” those swirling animated displays of pixels that change from green to yellow to orange to red to blue while moving rightward across your TV, computer, or smartphone screens. We stand transfixed like 12-year-old boys looking at a centerfold for the first time as reporters dressed like the Gorton’s Fisherman stand in the rain and tell us… it’s raining. Or, worse yet, that it’s not raining, snowing, sleeting, or hailing.

Part of the weather hype is driven by hysteria over global warming, which means that weather — once delivered by genial weirdos like Willard Scott and David Letterman — is as big a deal as the latest American misadventure in the Middle East (for the record, I believe that climate change is taking place, that human activity is part of the cause, and that the best way to deal with it is to remediate its effects rather than simply pull the plug on human progress).

As one Twitter wag put it in response to the non-blizzard of the moment, “Remember: no snow = global warming, lots of snow = global warming, less snow than you thought = global warming.” The important thing being, of course, that we always feel bad about ourselves no matter what’s happening.

Nick Gillespie, “Can We All Shut Up About the Weather for a While?”, Time, 2015-01-27.

January 9, 2015

“Time is running out to do something stupid and irreversible. Act now!”

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Kevin D. Williamson on the childish cry of “Now!”

“Now!” is a rhetorical short circuit, a way to preempt anyone’s thinking too deeply about a proposition. In Bill de Blasio’s New York, the streets are full of idiotic riff-raff chanting: “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it [sic]? Now!” When the country is convulsed by the shooting of a petty criminal in the suburbs of St. Louis, the answer, according to the sort of people who made de Blasio mayor, is dead cops in New York. Don’t bother pointing out how little sense that makes — the “Now!” punctuating that murderous sentiment is all you need to know. Not that killing police in Missouri is any more sensible, but I was puzzled about why New York City had become the locus of anti-police protests until I tightened in and asked further why within New York it is the site around Union Square, rather than One Police Plaza or Staten Island, the scene of Eric Garner’s death at the hands of the NYPD, that is the center of the scene. The answer, so near as I can tell, is: better bars.

“What do we want? Craft beers! When do we want them? Now!”

“Now!” is the eternal cry of the infantile — “What does baby want? Diaper change! When does baby want it? Now!” — and Barack Obama, who has a keen appreciation of that fact, has made immediacy the hallmark of his style. Executive amnesty, minimum wage, climate change — these are all within the realm of the holy Now!, the sort of thing that cannot wait. (Wait for what? Democracy.) The president does his stentorian best to beat some meaning into “the fierce urgency of now,” the phrase from Martin Luther King Jr. around which he once organized a famous speech almost entirely devoid of content. That this is so effective a strategy is despair-inducing. Grown men, and facsimiles thereof, are routinely taken in by this sort of thing; consider Andrew Sullivan’s soft spot for Obama’s dopey “fierce urgency of now” shtick, taking it as evidence that the empty suit from Chicago “meets a moment in history.”

December 8, 2014

QotD: Talking about “rape culture”

Filed under: Law, Media, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

So I am having a hard time getting my head around something. All week people have been calling me a “rape apologist” and “pro-rape.” I’m being constantly informed that I don’t understand “rape culture.” These often hysterical accusations tend to come from people who seem to understand rape culture the same way some people understand the geopolitics of Westeros or Middle Earth: They’ve studied it, they know every detail about it, they just seem to have forgotten it doesn’t exist.

Now, hold on. I certainly believe rape happens. And I definitely believe we have cultural problems that lead to date rape and other drunken barbarisms and sober atrocities. But the term “rape culture” suggests that there is a large and obvious belief system that condones and enables rape as an end in itself in America. This simply strikes me as an elaborate political lie intended to strengthen the hand of activists. There’s definitely lots that is wrong with our culture, particularly youth culture and specifically campus culture. Sybaritic, crapulent, hedonistic, decadent, bacchanalian: choose your adjectives.

What is most remarkable about our problems is that they seem to take people by surprise. For instance, it would be commonsense to our grandmothers that some drunk men will do bad things, particularly in a moral vacuum, and that women should take that into account. I constantly hear that instead of lecturing women about their behavior we should teach men not to rape. I totally, completely, 100 percent agree that we should teach men not to rape. The problem is we do that. A lot. Maybe we should do it more. We also teach people not to murder — another heinous crime. But murders happen too. That’s why we advise our kids to steer clear of certain neighborhoods at certain times and avoid certain behaviors. I’m not “pro-murder” if I tell my kid not to walk through the park at night and flash money around any more than I am pro-rape if I give her similar advice.

Of course, the problem is that feminists want to expunge any notion that women are gentler and fairer. This requires declaring war on chivalric standards for male conduct, which were once a great bulwark against caddish and rapacious behavior. Take away the notion that men should be protective of women and they will — surprise! — be less protective of women.

None of this means we’d all be better off with women in corsets on fainting couches. (I like strong, assertive women so much I married one. I’m also the son of one, and I’m trying to raise another.) But somehow feminists have gotten themselves into the position of adopting the adolescent male’s fantasy of consequence-and-obligation-free sex as an ideal for women. Uncivilized and morally uneducated men have, for millennia, wanted to treat women like sluts. And now feminists have embraced the word as a badge of honor. Call me an old-fogey, but I think that’s weird.

Jonah Goldberg, The Goldberg File, 2014-12-05.

May 5, 2014

Fukushima, radiation, and FUD

Filed under: Environment, Japan, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 06:54

James Conca on a recent UN report that isn’t getting attention:

It’s always amazing when a United Nations report that has global ramifications comes out with little fanfare. The latest one states that no one will get cancer or die from radiation released from Fukushima, but the fear and overreaction is harming people (UNIS; UNSCEAR Fukushima; UNSCEAR A-68-46 [PDF]). This is what we’ve been saying for almost three years but it’s nice to see it officially acknowledged.

According to the report, drafted last year but only recently finalized by the U.N., “The doses to the general public, both those incurred during the first year and estimated for their lifetimes, are generally low or very low. No discernible increased incidence of radiation-related health effects are expected among exposed members of the public or their descendants. The most important health effect is on mental and social well-being, related to the enormous impact of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident, and the fear and stigma related to the perceived risk of exposure to ionizing radiation. Effects such as depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms have already been reported.”

In addition, the report states, “Increased rates of detection of [thyroid] nodules, cysts and cancers have been observed during the first round of screening; however, these are to be expected in view of the high detection efficiency [using modern high-efficiency ultrasonography]. Data from similar screening protocols in areas not affected by the accident imply that the apparent increased rates of detection among children in Fukushima Prefecture are unrelated to radiation exposure.”

So the Japanese people can start eating their own food again, and moving back into areas contaminated with radiation levels similar to many areas of the world like Colorado and Brazil, which includes most of the exclusion zone. Only a few places shouldn’t be repopulated.

But if you want to continue feeling afraid, and want to make sure others keep being afraid, by all means ignore this report on Fukushima. But then you really can’t keep quoting previous UNSCEAR policy and application of LNT (the Linear No-Threshold dose hypothesis) to support more fear.

Note – LNT is a leftover Cold War ideology that states all radiation is bad, even the background radiation we are bathed in every day, even the 3,200 pCi of radiation in a bag of potato chips (yes, potato chips have the most radioactivity of any food, but they taste sooo good!).

Of course, if you’ve been actually following the events from three years back, this report will contain few surprises.

September 20, 2011

About that “ethnic cleansing” in Basildon

Filed under: Britain, Government, Law, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:10

All the great and the good are girding for battle over the Dale Farm evictions:

A terrible episode of ‘ethnic cleansing’ is looming. It promises to be so bad that a spokesman for the United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has been helicoptered in to ‘oversee negotiations’. Amnesty International has set up a special ‘priority action’ page on its website, pleading with people to write letters of outrage to politicians. Head-tilting celebrities have turned up to raise awareness about what one journalist refers to as the ‘racist hysteria’ of the coming cleansing, including that grande dame of right-on causes, Vanessa Redgrave. Things are so dire that the BBC has sent in Fergal Keane, its softly spoken, Irish ponderer of all things evil, who doesn’t only wear his heart but also his lungs, liver and spleen on his sleeve, who cut his teeth reporting on the war in Bosnia and the calamity in Rwanda. ‘It’s a very apprehensive situation’, he intoned on last night’s news.

Oh god, what has happened? A new war in Africa? A rekindling of the old wars in Bosnia? No. Basildon Council in Essex in south-east England is planning to evict some Travellers from their plot of land in Dale Farm. That’s all. Yet watching the media coverage, perusing the millions of tweets of tear-stained concern, you could be forgiven for thinking that the so-called Battle of Dale Farm was a rerun of Bosnia 1992. That is because moral opportunists, cause-hunters, those desperate for some political momentum in their lives, have cynically transformed a small-scale spat between a council and some Gypsies into an epochal stand-off between the forces of racist hysteria and the massed ranks of decent UN cheerleaders. It speaks to the desperation of today’s wannabe moral crusaders that they are willing to infuse even the Dale Farm fallout with the kind of simple-minded moralistic lingo they usually reserve for foreign wars.

Of course, the threatened Dale Farm eviction, which was supposed to take place yesterday until the High Court in London imposed a temporary injunction against it, will be bad and distressing for the Traveller families involved. Eighty-six families could be forcibly removed, simply for building homes on land which they own yet which Basildon Council says is protected Green Belt territory. But is that any justification for using phrases such as ‘racist hysteria’ to describe Basildon Council’s actions and even conjuring up the Holocaust to describe the plight of the Travellers, with Vanessa Redgrave talking about ‘what happened during Hitler’s rule’ and demanding that ‘minorities shouldn’t be destroyed’? If there’s any hysteria here, it is among those who fantasise that we’re witnessing a rerun of Nazi evil and that it is down to conscience-exercising celebs and Amnesty letter-writers — the heroes of the hour — to stop it in its tracks.

May 12, 2011

Record gasoline prices drive journalists insane

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:29

Well, that’s the only way to explain the causes when the reflexively right-wing Toronto Sun starts frothing at the mouth about “unregulated derivative speculators” while the staunchly left-wing Toronto Star claims “The oil industry doesn’t like high gasoline prices any more than you do.”

Jon, who sent me links to both articles, titled it “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!”

I think the election has unhinged people — or at least finally driven out the pins for those who were already well on their way to being unhinged. [. . .] Go to Google and search the Sun‘s site for “fat cats AND pigs” and you’ll find a Saganesque hyperbole of hits from just the last three days. And a similar number of calls for increased government regulation of the oil industry.

I’ll cut the linked Sun article above some slack, as the author does mention unwashed hippies as being part of the problem — the guy does just a little to maintain the Sun‘s conservative front — but the overall tone from the paper in the last few days has been just a little weird.

That, and you could see the track marks all over yesterday’s Sunshine Girl. What is that paper coming to, I ask?

Update: On the other, other hand, here’s Stephen Gordon from the Globe & Mail‘s Economy Lab on why high gasoline prices are good for Canada:

If there is a proposition in economics that can aspire to law-like status, it is surely Easterbrook’s Law: “All economic news is bad.” This is a truly powerful insight, and it explains how phenomena that would ordinarily be seen as good news are generally portrayed as a problem demanding government intervention. And so it is with the recent rise in gasoline prices.

[. . .]

So how can higher gasoline prices be consistent with increased purchasing power? The answer is that we are observing a relative price shift. The prices of some goods — notably gasoline — have increased. But the prices of other goods have fallen, most notably imported goods that have been made cheaper by an appreciating Canadian dollar. The overall net effect on Canadians’ buying power is positive.

To be sure, there are some people for whom this shift is genuinely bad news: many with low incomes may not be able to easily reduce their consumption of gasoline. But the real problem facing these households is that they have low incomes.

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